Date: March 4th, 2011
What: The Winter Greens Tour
Line up: Rebelution, The Green & Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad
Location: The Filmore at Irving Plaza. New York, Ny.
On Friday night, I was treated to something of a dream show for the modern reggae fan – The Green, Rebelution, and Giant Panda Guerilla Dub squad filled out the line-up. But when I say ‘dream’ I’m not necessarily referring to my opinion of the groups nor my own particular tastes; this dream is a bit more quantitative than simple matters of opinion. What made this show so special was the presence of three groups who each fall under the category of ‘reggae’ music, however their sounds they produce, both live and in the studio, vary so widely that seeing all three in the same place is like a journey through the history of reggae music.
Anyone familiar with this site by now is probably also pretty familiar with the general concept of ‘reggae’ music – syncopated, feel-good music from Jamaica played by people with dread-locks right? While that may be a decent catch-all for the roots rocker of old, the extended reggae family has grown quite a bit, encompassing dance music, punk rock, pop, soul, hip-hop, and r&b. Over and over again, pieces of reggae music are torn apart and slapped back together resulting in bright, new sounds that, at the end of the day, remain reggae.
The three groups that packed Irving Plaza Friday each uniquely demonstrated the sentiments above. The Green, on record and live, employ complex four part harmonies and dance rhythms to heighten the music’s intensity as well as draw upon reggae’s vast history of dancefloor sounds and soulful harmony akin to the lover’s rock hi-fi that dominated Jamaican airwaves in the 1980’s. At Irving Plaza, they found room for some more ‘rockin’ elements such as distorted guitars and crashing drums to stir the crowd wild. Later in their set, Marley D. Williams, bassist of Rebelution, joined the group onstage, adding a quick dose of freestyle rap to the Green’s beat.
Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad could be construed as something of a reactionary movement against the modernization of reggae music so prevalent amongst their contemporary practitioners. From dubstep to reggae-rock to skacore, reggae’s undergone an impressive array of variations within the past two decades alone, but Giant Panda’s sound has remained devout to the mellow roots music of yesteryear, particularly the 1970’s heyday of Studio One and King Tubby’s explorations in manipulating recorded sound via echo, tape-delay, and heavy post-production techniques. Bear in mind, that Giant Panda, in ever unwavering adherence to their dub forefathers, use strictly analog effects. No digital reproduction.
This time around, Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad introduced a new live member to the show, guitarist Daniel Keller, who fit so tightly into the scratchy panda grooves that the difference was hardly noticeable compared to the last time I saw them. But it should be noted that Giant Panda shifted suddenly from six members to four a few years ago, so plenty of those songs have room for more noise. Props are due as well to sound engineer Joel Scanlon whose masterful mixing techniques permit the band to explore the outer edges of the reggae song form to the height of their abilities without encroaching upon any stray frequencies.
As for Rebelution, well, there’s no need to sugarcoat this critique. I had a great time in the middle of that show surroundd by green laser lights, big tunes, and an audience that parties as hard as the bass thumps. Their command over the audience brought the venue to an intense high where the world’s troubles did really disappear for a few moments, leaving behind only good people and good vibes.
Like Giant Panda, Rebelution takes something of a traditionalist approach to things, but far less intense – no analog-only ethos. Likewise they intensify reggae music by merging with other genres like The Green, but without such extensive variation. Their set was closer to an amalgam of the two groups who preceded their set, drawing fine elements from both in a manner that left the music unique, but ultimately deeming some sense of cohesion upon the night, melding the two previous meditations on reggae music into one mold of modern roots music.
It’s inspiring, really, to remember that reggae music only began as a little spark of dance music on a tiny island in the caribbean about half a century ago. But somehwere down the line, that spark caught fire and reggae music began a global phenomenon informing countless styles across the free and not-so-free world. Friday night’s performances offered a glimpse into the past and the future of reggae music, the myriad turns still left for it delve into, and the near sacred traditions which still hold strong at its modern foundations.
– Article by: Chris Castro
-Photos by: Peter Woloszyn